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Description: How-to

Recently I put together a couple of example pieces about how to write description without dumping the information in large chunks. I thought I’d post those example pieces here for people to see the difference between a scene written one way and then the other.

Example 1

Clark turned the final corner to reach the cafe where he was meant to meet her. It was a standard building for Bath, made of the same pale stone and roofed in slate. Large Georgian style windows covered every storey but the bottom which had an open frontage sporting the Starbucks logo anywhere it would fit. Several outdoor tables and chairs littered the few feet in front of the shop.

The nearest table still had the previous occupants empty mug sitting on it, but this didn’t bother Clark. It would make him look less cheap while he waited for his date to arrive. The seat looked out over a large paved square in front of the city’s abbey, made of even older stone than the shop, but the stone had held up well over the years.

Several minutes ticked by and he glanced at his watch several times, hoping she would spot him easily when she arrived. He had tried to stand out from the crowd with his bright shirt and sunglasses. The tan on his arms and light, almost blond look to his usual brown hair would show how much he’d been in the sun lately. In short he looked like a tourist.

The waitress must have noticed. She smiled at him as she went around picking up the empty mugs left outside. It wasn’t easy to return the gesture when he realised his only line of defence against needing to order was being removed.

Thankfully, he spotted her coming out of the abbey giftshop. His eyes were drawn to her right away, Clarice Starling, a thousand times more stunning now than she had been the moment he set eyes on her photo. She strode confidently towards him, holding his gaze. Her own sunglasses were propped on her dark brown hair, letting him see her hazel eyes. She looked almost as much of a tourist as he did with her darkly tanned skin and strapped top with shorts. A rucksack slung over one shoulder finished the look.

“Drink?” he asked as she sat down to one side of him and placed her bag on the ground by her feet. She nodded.

“Tea, please. I think I’ve had enough coffee today.”

It only took him a few minutes to get their order and he quickly returned to the table, a steaming mug in one hand and an iced frappucino in the other. He didn’t know how anyone could drink a hot drink in this weather but he knew better than to question a woman’s drinking choice at this stage in the relationship. The whole while he’d been ordering he’d tried to think of ways he could show interest in her day, to help her feel like he was interested and could listen.

“Did you like it?” he asked. “In the abbey.”

“Yes. It’s a good thing I came today. It’s in use for the university graduation ceremonies all day tomorrow.”

“Good timing.” He tried not to look smug. It wasn’t something he’d ever found easy, picking a place to take a woman out and impress her, but he hoped she’d be pleased with the location he’d chosen. If not entirely romantic, in the sun it was exactly the sort of pretty he’d been hoping for. And being pleased with the day would help his cause. He’d deliberately pushed to do it today.

“You weren’t waiting here long for me, I hope?” she asked, a hint of concern flashing through her eyes. He shook his head. “Good, I’d hate you to be bored after you’d travelled this far.”

“You can always make it up to me later,” he said and gave her a wide grin.

“That might depend on what else you have planned for today?”

“Well, I thought I might take you somewhere nice and expensive for lunch, order champagne, get you drunk without you realising it and then take you back to my hotel room and take my best shot at getting you in the hot tub with me.”

She laughed and shook her head at his suggestion, but didn’t seem to mind the boldness of it. A few seconds later she downed the last of her tea.

“Alright, Mr Starling, since we’re celebrating our anniversary, I think I can let you get me drunk.”

They stood up and she tucked her arm through his, letting her lead him to the restaurant he’d picked out. He could barely believe she’d been his wife for ten years already.

Example 2

Clark turned the final corner to reach the cafe where he was meant to meet her. It was a standard building for Bath, made of the same pale stone and roofed in slate, just like the picture. The nearest table still had the previous occupants empty mug sitting on it, but this didn’t bother Clark. It would make him look less cheap while he waited for his date to arrive. As he sat down he took off his sunglasses and placed them on the table as well.

As several minutes ticked by he glanced at his watch several times, noticing there was a tan line around the strap and face. He’d worn it for so long he’d not thought to take it off.

It wasn’t long before a waitress emerged from the open plan entrance to the Georgian style building, making a beeline for all the green logo’d mugs left behind by previous customers. He watched her for a moment as she got her matching starbucks apron caught between two chairs and won him some brownie points helping her to untangle herself.

“Are you enjoying your holiday?” she asked by way of a thank you. He nodded as she picked up the mug on the table.

“Is it that obvious I’m a tourist?” he asked wanting to make some conversation. She laughed and nodded before heading back inside the grand building.

He sighed, knowing he couldn’t sit there much longer without getting a drink. Thankfully he spotted her coming out of the abbey giftshop. His eyes were drawn to her bright top and shorts right away, Clarice Starling, a thousand times more stunning now than she had been the moment he set eyes on her photo.

She strode confidently across the paved square in front of the abbey, holding his gaze. The cafe had been chosen because it would be easy to spot for her when she exited the historic building.

“Drink?” he asked as she sat down to one side of him and placed her rucksack on the ground by her feet. She nodded, and a second later he rushed forward to catch her sunglasses as they fell from the perch on her head.

“Tea, please. I think I’ve had enough coffee today,” she replied as she took them back, her hazel eyes flickering with amusement.

He shook his head at her choice of a hot drink, but was too busy pushing his floppy brown hair back from his eyes to question it.

It only took him a few minutes to get their order and he quickly returned to the table, a steaming mug in one hand and an iced frappucino in the other.

“Did you like it? In the abbey,” he asked, hoping it wouldn’t sound like he’d rehearsed it. He wanted her to know she was interesting to him, but never found it easy to use the right words.

“Yes. It’s a good thing I came today. It’s in use for the university graduation ceremonies all day tomorrow.”

“Good timing.” He tried not to look smug, but she must have spotted it.

“Thank you for persuading me to come today. You were right, today was the perfect day.”

“It’s pretty in the sun today, don’t you think?”

“Very much so, and even sort of romantic in its own way.”

He smiled and restrained the urge to fistpump the air, all the effort he’d gone to suddenly worth every second.

“You weren’t waiting here long for me, I hope?” she asked, a hint of concern flashing through her eyes. He shook his head. “Good, I’d hate you to be bored after you’d travelled this far.”

“You can always make it up to me later,” he said and gave her a wide grin.

“That might depend on what else you have planned for today?”

“Well, I thought I might take you somewhere nice and expensive for lunch, order champagne, get you drunk without you realising it and then take you back to my hotel room and take my best shot at getting you in the hot tub with me.”

She laughed and shook her head at his suggestion, but didn’t seem to mind the boldness of it. A few seconds later she downed the last of her tea.

“Alright, Mr Starling, since we’re celebrating our anniversary, I think I can let you get me drunk.”

They stood up and she tucked her arm through his, letting her lead him to the restaurant he’d picked out. He could barely believe she’d been his wife for ten years already.

While mostly I prefer to disperse description of location and charactes throughout a scene, as well as anything else that can be drip fed, neither example is perfectly right by itself. There’s always the odd occasion where getting some information to the readers in as swift and unboring a manner is necessary, often when describing something scientific or political, and then devoting a paragraph or two to giving the information can be a better way to write.

Finding Inspiration

Life often has a way of making things feel dull, routine and just downright unfun. Even when doing the thing you love for a job sometimes it feels like a chore. The constant daily grins of meeting word counts, fixing errors and finding a way to market the books already published can be wearing despite the love of creating and telling stories. This can lead to ideas going stale and a certain loss in quality of writing.

When life gets like this I realise that sometimes it’s good to take a break, let the mind rest and refind the love of the job. There are several ways I try this.

Enjoying other good stories. Whether this is reading or watching them, I occasionally find that nothing reignites my passion for creating a good story quite like delving into someone elses does and being taken along for the ride. Sometimes one little line or spark of an idea makes all the difference. And at worst I’ve given my mind a rest and enjoyed something relaxing and interesting.

Getting out into nature. Going outside, getting a complete change of scenary and also getting a little exercise can often help me relax, refocus and get back into the right mindspace to enjoy writing again. Sometimes the routine and sameness of each day is what’s making it hard to focus. Going somewhere else and seeing something new can be the little bit of change needed to make the world feel fresh and interesting again.

Trying something different. Sometimes the problem is writing the same sort of story over and over again. I find it can really break open my writing to try a new challenge. Often trying to write in a new genre or a new style can break the monotony and at the same time be a great learning experience to bring back to the usual stories.

Fixing a problem. Occasionally the blockage is unrelated to the writing and is an issue or undealt with conflict in another area of life. It can be very hard to stir up the emotions and creativity needed to write about one circumstance when another in our own life is commandeering all our emotional energy. It can help to down tools, work out a satisying resolution to a problem and then come back to work knowing our quality of life has improved or is improving thanks to the effort we’ve put in elsewhere. Doing our dream job so much the rest of life suffers won’t make us any happier in the long run.

I’ve found that often when I don’t feel inspired to write the above, or a combination of them eventually lead to me getting back into my writing, but I’m sure there are other fixes to the problem too. If you find other things work please let me know in comments or email etc.

Branching Plot Novels: How-to

Otherwise known as a Choose Your Own Adventure, although that title for them is trademarked so sometimes they’re also known as a Decide Your Own Adventure, but they’re all forms of Branching Plot Story.

As most of you are aware, I’ve been writing my very own Branching plot novel and blogging it (see all the Angel of the Sands episodes if not) and I have been putting together the parts not chosen in the background as we’ve gone along. It’s not the first time I’ve written a story like this and allowed readers to decide what they’d like to happen next, but it is the first time I’ve tried to put together all the different possibilities into one file to potentially publish.

When I looked into how to go about making a branching plot novel I didn’t find that much information. I found quite a few blogs and websites that talked about the flow of the different branches and how they’ve evolved in the book that were published through the years, but little that went through how to design one from scratch, so I thought I’d blog about how I did it.

Left and up a little is a snapshot of the way I mapped it out so I could see all the branches on one piece of paper. According to the pictures of the others I saw this is a lot more complicated than most are, but hey, I like complicated. One thing I noticed early on was that I had way too much plot and far too many options. It really helps to have an idea of the end point and try to keep it so the branches come back to those points.

To keep the plot straight in my head as I built the tree diagram of the options I also created a word document with the corresponding numbers at the top of each page and an outline of what it needed to cover as well as the options and which number they led to. I essentially wrote out a detailed outline of the plot as I was mapping it, which is something new for me. Normally I have a basic outline not a detailed one, but I found I really needed it.

I also marked the sections on the tree where the same event happens but with variations, so I knew that all the branches had to eventually pass through these. Like a particular attack that happens regardless of everything that’s come before. Despite all my branches there are only 4 different versions of the attack and somehow all the branches come together at those 4 points and feed through. Likewise with a ceremony. All these are circles on the map and I’ve labeled them. In the picture you can see a few marked C, these are ceremony points.

The boxes are where it goes to another number in the tree but it’s too far away so I’m not drawing an arrow and making it messier and then finally the triangles are my endings. I have 11 of them if you count the two deaths. It was a few more than I wanted but I found I had to stop my plot sooner, so there’s lots of endings of various degrees of awesome.

So my advice on making a branching plot novel. Keep the plot fairly short. No more than a 10k story if you only went through one set of branches, keep your options to smaller numbers and keep bringing them back in towards pivotal moments so your branches are regularly trimmed down and don’t overload you. And come up with some sort of system so you know where the branches lead, like the tree I drew or your own equivalent. Also, if you don’t particularly like the idea of doing it all yourself, there does seem to be this handy software. I’ve not tried it but I have heard good things about it.

Goals, Dreams and To-do Lists

All three of the above things are a big part of being successful in any creative or business field so I thought I’d talk about all three, what they are, how they fit together and how to make the most of them, especially from a creative perspective.

Dreams are the things that make us get excited and buzzed, they’re a big part of living life and pretty much everyone has them. Often they consist of things like getting married and having kids but they also include things like writing novels, making movies and starting a business.

From that point dreams can get even more specific. You can dream of starting a business that eventually makes millions a year, or owning a bookshop chain across the country, or making the NYT bestseller list with a novel. They’re still dreams though as a lot of different factors need to come together to make them happen and not all of them are in your control.

Goals are milestone markers on the way to getting your dreams, but controllable by you. So if you were starting a business, the first goal might be to get your product and unique selling point defined, your next goal might be have your product in a shop of some kind, the next might be obtain an advertising plan so people can hear about you.

If you were doing something creative, it might be get a gallery worth of finished paintings, or write a series of novels. Either way, goals should be achievements that get you closer to those dreams, but something you can control and see yourself getting towards. It should be something relatively measureable, but it can still be a long-term thing and take years of effort to get to.

That’s where to-do lists come in. Sometimes each goal is huge and breaking it down into a list of tasks to tackle one by one can make the dreams and goals come closer inch by inch. It gives you something to focus on today in the here and now that isn’t as scary and overwhelming as dreaming of the NYT bestseller list or a million pound company.

Say that you’ve got your product and know why it’s good but you aren’t sure how to get the shop side of things going. The to-do list would make that easier. You can break down your goal into tasks, like:

  • Approach ‘this relevant’ shop chain about stocking your product.
  • Research the cost of getting a website set up to sell through.
  • Get website set up/Raise funds to pay someone else
  • Set up a facebook page that takes orders (or other useful social media)
  • Set up an Ebay account to sell through
  • Promote a launch event either physically or digitally (dependent on product)

Some of those can be broken down into smaller tasks again, but it gives the general idea, and each day when you get up you’ll have something you can work towards without worrying about how far you are from the dream. Before you know it you’ll have some of those goals passed (I fully believe in rewarding yourself at each milestone), and be well on your way to seeing your dream become a reality.

There will be tough days, there always are when you’re chasing dreams, but on those days I try to make sure a little something is done towards the goals and to-do list, even if it’s just to write a few more words of a story. Every day chipping away adds up until, step by step, you’ve reached the end. I personally don’t like making to-do lists, but time and time again, making one has helped my brain get through the fog of having a goal and feeling like I can’t get there. And there’s something amazingly satisfying about ticking things off to-do lists.

So if you have something that you’ve always dreamt of, work out what the exact dream is, break it down into milestones along the way and start making a to-do list of tasks to get you to that first goal. Then every day until you reach that goal, do something towards those tasks. And most importantly, keep dreaming.

Knowing When to Use Each Tense and Perspective

When starting a story it can be difficult to decide what tense and persepective to use, and as a reader it can be very confusing if you pick up a book and find it’s not in the sort of style you expected, so I thought I’d talk a bit more about what to use, when and what all the different terms actually mean.

Tense

Books are usually written in two tenses. Predominantly past tense (there will often be a smattering of present tense parts of sentences, usually attached to a past tense action with a comma somewhere in the middle) or present tense. Future tense is something I’ve never seen used as a predominant style and I’m actually not sure if that would work anyway so we’ll ignore that as an option.

Past tense is my favourite and probably the easiest. Here’s an example sentence:

She pulled back the organza sleeves that covered her wrists and most of her hands and showed him the black rose tattoo on the soft inside.

Everything is described as if it happened and isn’t happening any longer. This is pretty much how most standard novels are written. It’s comfortable and not too driven, but it has a few limitations. Here’s the same sentence again in present tense:

She pulls back the organza sleeves covering her wrists and most of her hands and shows him the black rose tattoo on the soft inside.

As you can see it’s not entirely natural sounding, but it can lend a sort of immediacy to a book and drive it forward. As far as I am aware, the example just given of present tense isn’t one commonly used because it’s also in the third person perspective.

Perspective

There are three perspectives to choose from, third person (where events are narrated by someone outside even if limited to a single characters perspective), second person, and first person.

Third person is the most common perspective to use, along with past tense. The first example sentence is both of these and it’s the style I usually write. It’s what most of us are used to reading and I find it the easiest to write. On top of that there are some readers who refuse to read anything not in this style.

Second person is probably the least common, and I’ve only seen it used in the pick your own adventure type stories, with the subject being you. Here’s a present tense example:

You pull back the organza sleeves covering your wrists and most of your hands and show him the black rose tattoo on the soft inside.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen second person in past tense, mostly because it’s useful to give the sense of urgency to make a decision at the end of each chunk of narrative.

Finally there’s first person, which combined with present tense as well, makes a popular choice of style for a lot of young adult novels. The Hunger Games is written in first person, as is Fifty Shades (also present tense) so they seem to be getting much more popular in the main stream as well. In this style the main character is talking about himself or herself in a sort of diary like way. Here’s an example (again present tense):

I pull back the organza sleeves covering my wrists and most of my hands and show him the black rose tattoo on the soft inside.

Occasionally first person might use past tense but it’s less common. Just so it’s a complete picture of all the types you could use, here’s the example.

I pulled back the organza sleeves that covered my wrists and most of my hands and showed him the black rose tattoo on the soft inside.

In terms of which style I’d recommend people use, it entirely depends on what you want to write. As I mentioned earlier the pick your own adventure type story uses second person present the entire time (I’ve got one blogged here), and I’d recommend anyone who tries to write that format of book to use that style as well. For those who write for the young adult or new adult audiences (especially paranormal stories) it’s very common to use first person present, but it can also work very well for those punchy stories from strange perspectives where you really want the reader to engage in the mindset of the main character and get into their head. If you’re a relatively new author and you read a lot of first person present you will probably find this format easiest as well, although it’s not easy to get right. For everything else, mostly because that’s what those genres expect and because it’s easiest to get right, use third person past.

There are some writers who mix. Having chapters from one character in first person with other characters in third person, and also having the book mainly in present so flashbacks can be in the past. These are all good reasons to switch things up a bit, just be careful not to switch in the wrong places and confuse your readers.

Personally my favourite is third person past, probably because I grew up with it, but I also quite like second person present. I don’t enjoy first person, but I can see why people do. What’s your favourite to read and write? And what style puts you off books?

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How to do a Character Study

This is one of my favourite past times and something I’ve done so much I sort of find myself doing it automatically a lot of the time.

To start with, obviously, I pick a character. I try to choose one that has more than just the basic cannon to work with. Something like a Jane Austen character or where a film has been made about a book. Most of the time having two sources to work from helps. On top of that if I’m using film as my source material I make sure it’s an actor I know reasonably well. It helps to have an idea of how they interpret characters and what sort of dynamic they will bring to the part. Finally I take a character that interests me in some way.

I then read or watch everything that character is in, paying attention to dialogue, body language (if film) and emotional reactions to events. There’s so much to learn about a character and most of it is between the lines so I just start with this and then grow out from there if I want to. If there’s a lot of stuff. I’ll just grab the original works and some of the bigger adaptations or extensions.

Through their dialogue and emotions you can get a feel for what makes them tick, their level of education, what they think of themselves and others and what sort of personality they’ve got. If they speak well they may have been to a posh school or they may be a little vain. Through their emotional reactions you can work out what hang ups their past might have given them as well as whatb their goals and dreams might be.

While a lot of this is included in the story if you’re studying a main character, studying the bad guy or the secondary characters often leaves you wanting on the details of their past and why they might be the way they are, and this is where the character study comes in handy the most. A lot of our personality and the way we act is governeed by our past. Take the phantom in the musical. In the film they made he comes across as a passionate a genius and very much in love with Christine. We also get shown the cruelty he’s faced because of his disfigurement and can then make the choice to pity him because a lack of love has made him so aggressively possessive of his own love’s object of affection.

In the original book, the phantom is more disfigured, more crazy and appears to take more delight in harming people for the sake of harming people, leaving us pitying him less. Our ability to pity comes out of analysing his actions and understanding whether they are coming out of his own pain or some sadistic desire to hurt others.

I try to make as few assumptions as possible, prefering to stick to the facts but certain behaviours usually match up with certain past experiences and the more character studies you’ll do the more you’ll get a feel for the types of logical leaps you can make about them.

When I’m satisfied I know the character as much as I can, I often start to brainstorm what if scenarios for them. I start with what sort of person would be able to make friends with them and gain their trust and then move onto romantic attachments. What would their ideal partner be like, how would their initial meetings go. For some characters I have many many possibilities for these but a few characters (often the more complex and untrusting ones), I can sometimes list several possible scenarios for a first meeting and the different personality types and find flaws in a lot of them, but eventually I arrive with something workable.

With all that done I often write a brief bit of dialogue intensive meeting of two characters. The one I’ve come up with as a friend or romantic attachement and my character study (On the few rare occasions I’ve been unable to decide on a suitable extra character, or when I’m struggling to get my head around the character and want to explore him or her a bit further before taking it too far, I might use myself as the extra character). This then gives me the opportunity to see if I can get into the character study enough to write as if I’m them, and explore their reactions and dialogue for myself.

Often this is where I end. If I’m satisfied with having an introduction to them and enjoy it I might continue, which is where my Mycroft fan-fiction has come from, but for the most part I consider myself satisfied and like I’ve understood the character as best as I can with the information I have. Very occasionally I come back to one years later and write the meeting point again from a different place.

Studying Other Artistic Works

Probably the biggest advice given to other artists is study the art form you want to replicate. Want to write books? Then read. Want to make movies? Watch movies. Simple, well sorta. Watching, reading, going to galleries on its own isn’t really enough. You’ve got to have your brain engaged to figure out why the movie, book, painting is awesome.

Even as a book writer I like studying movies and tv shows. A friend of mine recently said that he’d love it if tv script writers wrote books because they’re great at characters and their dialogue, something generally lacking in the book world, so a favourite past time of mine is a character study. I sit down with a book or tv series and I focus on one character and their dialogue. If it’s film I also focus on their body language, eye contact and all sorts of things like that and if book I focus on the repeated expressions, what makes them angry.

I talk to other friends too about why they might like or dislike a character and then I often try to write some fan fiction, where I take everything I’ve learnt about that character and they way they talk and try to apply it. While this can sometimes result in work I can’t sell it can also result in some amazing pieces where I learn what sorts of things makes a character a character.

On top of that I find reading description heavy authors like George R. R. Martin great for my own descriptions. It helps me figure out what sort of details should be woven in amongst the rest. Some people like getting lots of description and place setting, but the true greats describe everything without you feeling bogged down in paragraphs of boring information. Studying their tricks and the way the build their scenes can be a great help.

Finally every writer, actor, and director has their own style and while this shouldn’t be copied out right as it’s way better to develop your own style it can be a great way to learn what sorts of things people like. You’d also be surprised what people do and get away with and what rules are deliberately broken and when. Sometimes a style can be particularly known for breaking a rule, like Stephen King tends to have long sentences and many authors will play around with the exact useage of commas and occasionally words. If there’s a good enough reason for something there really are no rules.

NaNoWriMo Prep

Yup, it’s almost that time of the year again. In just over two weeks I’m going to be trying to National Novel Writer’s Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge of 50k words of a new novel in one month. I’m actually going to aim for 60k as I’ve done 50k the last two years and want it to remain a challenge.

As such i’m in preparation mode and I thought I’d share some of the things I do to try and get ready for such a momentous task. I’ve found that planning before hand helps to make the task a success.

For the most part I try to avoid social obligations in November. There’s always a few, but I try to see peeps before or just after and this year I’m even taking a week off with my fella (this week in fact) to spend time with each other before I disappear down the writerly rabbit hole. Telling people you are trying not to do too much social during also helps because then they know what you’re doing and you can garner extra motivation from the fact they will ask you how you’re doing and they will know if you fail and have no good reason.

I also make sure most of October is dedicated to doing anything that might get in the way, like other deadlines and other stories that are part finished. The last thing you need is someone nagging you to finish something else. Same goes for the chores. Try to get on top of the washing piles, the cleaning and anything else you don’t want to be distracted by when you’re writing (I’ve even heard that some people do their christmas shopping so they don’t leave it too late but I just do mine in December).

Also I try to minimise the things that might call to me to procrastinate, like games, books and other entertainment. I won’t start a new series of anything on tv in October, unless it’s going to be mostly over in november or I really can’t watch it at a later date. I also won’t buy any new games unless I know I can finish them before November. I won’t activate any subscriptions to any MMO’s and I try to get my final book in October read before the start of the month, especially if I’m enjoying it. (If NaNo goes really well I start allowing myself some downtime with these things again but usually only books and I’m very disciplined on the time I allow myself)

Finally the day or two before I take off from everything but thinking over the plot for the books and writing plot notes on anything I think I really have to add. As my book will also be a sequel I’ll also read the rest of the books in the series to get myself immersed in the world and characters again and think over the first line. Sometimes it takes me ages to write that first line so if I’ve already spent hours thinking on it when I get up on the 1st I can just sit down and write the line I’ve already partially worked out.

My Writing Method

This blog was partially inspired by the blog of a friend. All writers seem to do things differently and it can take a while to find what’s best for each person sometimes so I thought I’d share how I write and see if it helps anyone else. And those who are curious about my working day can get an insight.

I’m not a plotter nor am I a pantser (someone who writes by the seat of their pants without knowing what’s meant to happen next). I sort of sit somewhere in between. I get an idea, which is usually a scene or two between the main characters, and things tend to grow from there in my head. I often know where the book needs to end. I have some crucial plot moments and vague ideas of a few conversations that will take place but I rarely have the whole plot.

Once I’ve worked out who the characters are and their backstory I usually just start writing somewhere that’s part action and not too description based and just tell the story from there, until I reach the ending I had in my head, via all the crucial scenes I had before. What happens in between that is often as surprising to me as anyone else.

On average I write about 800-900 words per working day, although this is significantly more in November and less in the summer months. I find I work best in the winter and I love competing in NaNoWriMo. Most of my writing gets done in the afternoon or evening as I often use the morning to write blog posts, market, and read other blogs on various related topics to do with my profession.

I’ve mentioned several times before that my ideas get written into my tardis journal and when I’ve finished the first draft of a book I often spend a few days picking the next one to write. I don’t start editing anything right after finishing first draft as it’s still too fresh in my head and I do only a minor amount of re-writing as I try not to use the critical side of my brain at all but stay in the creative side (for more info on that read Dean Wesley Smith’s blog on the myth of re-writing).

When I’ve finished the second draft (which I don’t start for at least a month or two) the rest of my team get to look at it which is made up of a mix of different style editors and proofreaders. My team have been very carefully put together of a number of years and now consists of people I trust the most with my writing. They are people who get me and my style but still offer critisism and are good at picking up on certain things I struggle with.

When a book is close to being finished I commission the cover (if I’ve not already done so) and format the book myself for print and ebook. This is all stuff I try to fit into my mornings when I’m not writing but it doesn’t always work like that.

For a while I wrote everything by hand and also spent most mornings typing up but I switched to typing last NaNoWriMo and found I’m a faster writer now. I think it was important I wrote by hand those first few years. It helped me see my own mistakes quicker as I typed them and was good for learning discipline but now I’m a better writer it’s no longer necessary. I do sometimes miss my fountain pen though and will have the odd day or two where I decide to ditch the computer and write some stuff by hand and it often helps me get through a stuck point.

I also try to concentrate on only one book at a time. I’ve tried several projects at once but the temptation to only write the new exciting ones is too  much for me and the older ideas get forgotten and then they are harder to write when I do have to finish them but I know others who have several stories on the go at once and write whatever they feel like writing.

All  in all this process gets me writing about 220-240k words per year (although my average seems to be going up slowly year on year) and that results in about two novels per year plus the odd short story or two. either way you look at it I’m rather busy.

DRM, Copyright and eBooks

There’s been a lot of talk lately to do with DRM on ebooks. This mostly comes about because self-publishing authors get the choice to DRM their kindle books on amazon or not as they see fit. However, there seems to be some beffudlement as to what DRM actually is and does and how this works with the copyright of the origional works, so I thought I’d explain.

DRM

This stands for Digital rights management and is a piece of code that is attached to the kindle books (in this case) and tries to prevent anyone who’s bought the kindle file from converting to another file, moving the file and using it on another kindle, or selling it on. I’ve said tries for a very specific reason. Mostly it doesn’t work. It’s very easy to find software on the internet to strip the DRM off a file.

You might wish for DRM on a product to stop pirating and this is why it was invented. Sadly it only slows them down, and then, only by a few minutes. And it doesn’t protect the copyright. This is where some confusion comes in, but I’ll come to copyright and what it is in a few paragraphs.

Also, if say, someone who owned a nook really wanted to buy your book and put it on their ereader but you only sold through Amazon. If you had DRM enabled they wouldn’t be able to read your works. If you disabled DRM then they could convert your kindle file to the epub and put it on their nook to read. I’m sure authors wouldn’t mind this as the person has paid to get the kindle file. There are other circumstances like this where having DRM can actually hamper legitimate customers but I want to move on.

Copyright

This is the term for what protects the authors work from being sold by anyone unauthorised to sell it. This is often donated with the little © symbol or just the word copyright and then the name of whoever holds the copyright and the year the product was published. Copyright is automatic on written works. Officially and legally you own the copyright on everything you’ve written unless you legally transfer it over to somebody else. You can also retain copyright but grant related rights like publishing or movie rights to others which is what happens in most traditional publishing deals.

To defend a copyright it does help if you put the copyright notice on all work and print books tend to have a copyright page which lists all sorts of useful things, including the copyright of the current edition and the first edition if that applies. If you want to sue someone for making money off your copyrighted works and want to claim royalties they’ve earnt or anything like that, most courts in most countries require more proof of copyright. This is usually best obtained by paying your countries copyright office a small sum of money to keep your original manuscript tucked up and dated somewhere. It’s not necessary to claim the copyright unless you think you might have to go to court to claim money off someone else (which most authors would never be able to afford to do anyway) but it gives a lot of people peace of mind to have that precaution.

DRM has almost nothing to do with copyright. It’s more about the companies like amazon and apple protecting their formats for ebooks than it is about stopping people selling your work, and it sucks at both of those anyway.

So in short, my advice is to not bother with DRM. It doesn’t work and only aggravates some customers that want to use your book on multiple devices. Or families that would normally share a book or music cd from being able to do the same with an ebook.

And if you are worried about your copyright, make sure you have your copyright notice in the ebook file somewhere, and if really worried send a copy off to your copyright office as soon as the final draft is ready and get your comfirmation from them before you publish the book.